People who have disabilities are not excluded from the legal recruitment market and are very capable of becoming successful members of the solicitors' profession. The introduction of the Equality Act 2010 has seen the legal situation for disabled people improve. Employment is covered by the Act which means it is unlawful to discriminate against disabled people by recruitment and selection procedures. However, assumptions, attitudes and a lack of knowledge of the support that is available may see disabled people denied the opportunity to enter the legal profession.
The range of careers available in the solicitors' profession is diverse, different options will suit different people. It is important that you consider the key competencies required and the issues relating to disability that need to be addressed. For example, wheelchair access, working hours, or materials in alternative formats. Many of these can be easily resolved and would be considered reasonable adjustments for a firm/organisation to make under the Equality Act.
Employers and education providers must make reasonable adjustments where disabled people are placed at a substantial disadvantage. The majority of adjustments required are not costly.
Reasonable adjustments made by teaching institutions may include:
- providing study skills tuition
- provision of materials in a range of formats with a particular emphasis on the value of web-based provision
- timetabling and room provision to suit the needs of the student
- special arrangements for exams and assignments including extra time, provision of an amanuensis or special equipment
Reasonable adjustments made by employers may include:
- enabling flexibility and part time working
- providing specialist equipment
- moving desks to ensure physical accessibility
- providing materials in alternative formats
- reallocating part of a job to another employee
For students in higher education, there is a non-means tested Disabled Students Allowance (DSA), which can pay for equipment, travel and non-medical helper support required (although not all students are eligible for DSA).
Employers of a disabled person can apply to the government's Access to Work fund, which can pay for up to 100 per cent of the costs involved in supporting a disabled employee.
Read more in the Disabled students' guide (PDF 1398kb)
Applying for jobs
When applying for jobs, deciding if and when to disclose a disability can be a difficult choice. Disclosure is an individual decision as there is no legal obligation for an employee to disclose their disability unless it is likely to affect their performance to meet the requirements of the job. It becomes relevant to disclose your disability if any adjustments are required. There may be an advantage in disclosing your disability where firms are committed to equal opportunity policies that reflect non-discriminatory recruitment. Look out for the 'Disability Confident' logo on job advertisements, this means that the employer has made a commitment to employing disabled people, you are guaranteed a job interview if you meet the minimum requirements of the job.
Carry out thorough research on your chosen area and the firm or organisation you are applying to. Capitalise on your strengths, market yourself strongly and target your application appropriately. The Lawyers with Disability Division (LDD) of the Law Society provides support for disabled would-be solicitors and solicitors.